Friday, December 21, 2007

My 2007 Calendar - December

We've finally arrived at December, and at the last page of my 2007 calendar. This month's plant is hedera helix - English ivy.

I hadn't heard of it as a medicinal plant before, but checking on the web found that it's a common remedy in Germany for dry coughs. As this is a German calendar, it's not surprising that that was one of the uses mentioned. However, the use that interested me most was as a remedy for cellulite. In case like me you belong to the orange peel thighs group, here's the recipe:

Take a handful of ivy leaves (carefully - the sap can irritate the skin), 10g of rosemary leaves, 10 grams of fennel seeds, half a ginger tuber, 15g of juniper berrries, and the finely chopped peel of one lemon. Put everything into a glass container together with half a litre of cold-pressed olive oil or sunflower oil. leave it in a warm place and shake daily for 3 weeks. Then drain and store in a dark bottle. The massage oil will be ready in 3-6 months and should be rubbed in vigourously daily. Well, that's what the calendar says ...

Hedera helix is of course only one species of ivy, and every species has loads of varieties. Click here to see some of them. Ivy generally prefers slightly alkaline soils - if you're trying to grow it in an acid soil area, add lime. most types are hardy, but some canariensis varieties will succumb to frost. Dark leaved types are fine for growing up exposed northern facing walls, while yellow and silver leaved varieties prefer full sun.

There are various myths associated with ivy. In Greek and roman mythology it is associated with the god Dionysus/Bacchus - the god of wine. When Dionysus was born his stepmother Hera tried to kill him. So his nurses, the Nymphai Nysiades, covered his cradle with ivy-leaves to keep him hidden and safe. Later, when once he had been kidnapped and was being taken to Egypt to be sold as a slave, Dionysus made ivy grow around the oars and sails of the boat he was on, clogging them and preventing the boat from making progress.

Dionysus is often portrayed wearing a wreath of ivy and the association of the plant with the god of wine led to the plant being seen as a cure for intoxication. Greek and Roman drinkers would wear ivy wreaths to protect them from the effects of alcohol - you could give it a try at Christmas I suppose.

The trouble with ivy of course is that its aerial roots can damage brickwork when growing up walls and houses, and can gradually smother trees. In this context, my favourite ivy poem is Hardy's The Ivy Wife. But who knows if he was really talking about the plant ..

I LONGED to love a full-boughed beech
And be as high as he:

I stretched an arm within his reach,

And signalled unity.

But with his drip he forced a breach,

And tried to poison me.

I gave the grasp of partnership

To one of other race--

A plane: he barked him strip by strip

From upper bough to base;

And me therewith; for gone my grip,

My arms could not enlace.

In new affection next I strove
To coll an ash I saw,

And he in trust received my love;

Till with my soft green claw

I cramped and bound him as I wove...

Such was my love: ha-ha!

By this I gained his strength and height
Without his rivalry.

But in my triumph I lost sight

Of afterhaps. Soon he,

Being bark-bound, flagged, snapped, fell outright,

And in his fall felled me!

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